The Senate voted Thursday to approve a bipartisan bill aimed at curtailing gun violence in the United States, marking the country’s first major legislative action on firearms in nearly three decades.
The Bipartisan Safer Communities Act aims to implement “enhanced” background checks on gun buyers between the ages of 18 to 21, funnel money to community mental health and safety programs, and further prohibit individuals convicted of domestic violence from purchasing guns. It also will encourage states to strengthen so-called “red flag” laws that allow authorities to seize firearms from individuals deemed a danger to themselves or others. According to the Associated Press, 19 states and the District of Columbia already have red flag laws in place.
The House will vote on the $13 billion package Friday, which coincidentally falls on the one month anniversary of the mass shooting at an elementary school in Uvalde, Texas that left 19 children and two teachers dead.
Thursday’s landmark 65-to-33 vote came just hours after the Supreme Court controversially struck down a New York state law that placed limits on carrying firearms in public. Writing for the majority, Justice Clarence Thomas reaffirmed that the Second Amendment protects “an individual’s right to carry a handgun for self-defense outside the home,” but noted that individual states can continue to set their own laws banning firearms in certain locations, such as schools and government buildings.
“Families in Uvalde and Buffalo, and too many tragic shootings before, have demanded action. And tonight, we acted,” President Joe Biden said late Thursday evening. “Kids in schools and communities will be safer because of it.”
Although 15 GOP Senators voted in support of the bill, many Republicans spoke out against the legislation, calling it an infringement on their constituents’ right to bear arms.
“I’m angry that these horrific crimes keep happening, but I’m also angry that this august chamber plays political games,” said Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas), adding that the bill would only “disarm law-abiding citizens rather than take serious measures to protect our children.”
Yet Senate minority leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), who voted in support of the measure, noted that making some effort to address gun violence could prove beneficial for Republicans come election season. As the New York Times reported, a recent poll found a significant percentage of GOP voters support select gun control measures, such as raising the legal minimum age to buy a firearm. “It’s no secret that we’ve lost ground in suburban areas,” McConnell told reporters. “I hope it will be viewed favorably by voters in the suburbs we need to regain to be in the majority next year.”